I've been thinking about knives a good bit lately - particularly in the context of aikido. Tomiki sensei, the guy whose training system we ostensibly follow, must have thought that the knife was pretty important in aikido. He implemented knife randori as a central feature of our training, and he (or maybe his successor)put several knife-taking and knife-using techniques in the more advanced kata.
But for a while now, I have thought that Tomiki's aiki-knife material must have been an incomplete thought. It appears to me to be a good starting point, but mostly nobody ever goes beyond that starting point.
Turns out that I'm not the only one that is thinking similar thoughts. Several of the sensei that I have interacted with in the past year or so have stated similar observations and have mentioned that they have undertaken to broaden our aiki-knife practice beyond Tomiki's starting point that he left us. The really interesting point is that we have undertaken this project in slightly different ways.
One instructor I talked to this summer said that his students (almost all military and law types) complained that the Tomiki knife stuff was simply useless bullshit (as we practice it). So he undertook a year or so of stress-testing of the Sankata knife material in some resistive randori and he took their findings and fed them back into the kata in an attempt to make the kata training more viable. He was obviously pleased with his results and you know what was really interesting - when he showed me their kata modifications they were very similar to some of my ideas from about 6 years ago! Nice validation of both his and my ideas.
I was talking with a different sensei about aiki-knife and his assertion seemed to be that to get better aiki-knife practice we needed to improve our understanding of how blades work and how to use them in an aiki-fashion. So he developed a training system that (if i understand correctly) places the knife in tori's hand and teaches tori how to do his tori-thing with a knife. I have it on good authority that this sensei's aiki-knife material is exceptional.
Another sensei mentioned recently that he and his students were embarking on a prolonged project of developing a toshu randori system where the uke has the knife and tori is empty-handed. This would differ from the standard basic Tomiki knife practice in that uke would not be constrained to thrusts only but would be allowed to cut and slash - a practice that was heretofore limited to kata practice. I like the idea and i am sure that this sensei's knife randori practice will be a fruitful training method.
My take on aiki-knife most recently has been two-fold. I figure that if we are going to do aiki-knife then it should abide by the same principles and guidelines as the empty-hand aiki that we are used to. So, I have taken a fairly extensive list of aiki principles/ideas that was compiled a few years ago by a very high-ranked sensei and Ive been discussing them with my martial buddies with specific respect to their application to stick and blade - what does each aiki principle have to do with jo or blade?
Also, in my physical practices, I have adopted a knife training system from Arnis master, Bram Frank. Bram's modular knife system is a very exceptional training system quite similar to some of our renzoku practices. This modular knife system puts a knife in uke's and in tori's hand so that both partners are simultaneously learning to attack and defend with a blade. An additional benefit of this system is that the motion and muscle memory translates directly to empty-hand so that it remains functional even if tori is unarmed.
I think that it is super-interesting that we four have come to similar conclusions (mostly independently) and that our approaches are all somewhat different but that they dovetail together so nicley. I am looking forward to seeing what our collective Tomiki-inspired aiki-knife becomes!